Archive for May, 2009

20th May
2009
written by Mad Cow

Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, some drug use and language

Cow’s rating: 3 ½ cowbells

The best movies have layers. Some don’t reveal themselves in the viewer’s consciousness until the next day or week after the viewing. This film is like that. It’s just messy enough – and just organized enough – to evoke new combinations of emotions, ideas, and understanding. Based on the true story of the relationship between homeless man Nathaniel Ayers and LA Times columnist Steve Lopez (as expressed in Lopez’s book about it),  the movie is about relationships, social conditions, and, of course, individual tragic fates.

Lopez (Robert Downey Jr.) first meets Ayers (Jaimie Foxx) when he is attracted by Ayers’ musical ability with a two-string violin he happens to be playing on the street, next to his belongings crammed into a shopping cart. Ayers mentions having gone to Julliard and Lopez finds out this is true. Soon Steve’s desire to write a column or two becomes a growing need to save Nathaniel Ayers from himself.

Nathanial lives on skid row, a community of people confused, depressed, mentally ill, agitated, and drugged. It’s not a pretty picture. But Steve has his eyes on the prize, the salvation of Nathanial Ayers, even as we see Ayers’ schizophrenic behavior getting no better. He wants to get him a place to practice, a place to live, and opportunities to showcase and revive his musical gift. Ironically, though, Nathanial refers to Steve as his “god,” to which Steve recoils, not wanting the responsibility.

Directed by Joe Wright (Pride and Prejudice, Atonement) with the screenplay and written by Susannah Grant (Erin Brockovich), the movie is beautiful in its execution. The cinematography is stunning. We can be grateful that Nathaniel is obsessed with Beethoven, whose music graces the background throughout. We are invited to see a panorama of humanity, nature, and human-made beauty along with the not-so-beautiful. It was also a relief and a pleasure to see a movie involving an interracial relationship that isn’t stereotypical in some way. Maybe, just maybe, we’ve seen the last of Driving Miss Daisy.

The movie belongs to Jaime Foxx and Robert Downey Jr. Foxx never slips out of character, which is to say that he is brilliant as a living, breathing enigma throughout, mixing “rational” conversation with the inexplicable. He hears voices and expresses fear, affection, anger, and all sorts of emotions seemingly without provocation. Downey’s character must go through painful changes as he strives to do what is right but is brought up short with how to define rightness.

Wright, who employed many homeless people as “extras, actors and consultants”, has been criticized for “exploiting” them. They play themselves in the movie. Some say the chaos we see in the skid row community is overdone. Slumdog Millionaire got similar slams. I don’t get it. Why is it that a movie such as this receives criticism from the left when obviously violent, misogynistic, racist or just plain stupid movies are praised or ignored? The way I see it, Wright is trying to tell an interesting story, produce a work of art, and direct the American people’s attention to a population with whom they might not be familiar. This he has done. This should not be a problem.